The Dears (Credit: Richmond Lam)
Montreal artist writes for Clash...

It's now 150 years since the confederation of Canada.

That's not a long time. In fact, the Clash team probably pass trees older than that on their way to our London office.

It is, though, an important milestone. Canadian identity is continually evolving, twisting between many different poles, absorbing many different facets.

The Dears' frontman Murray Lightburn has always been proud of his Canadian identity, but his experience is much more nuanced than simple patriotism.

Here, he writes for Clash about how he views his Canadian identity, and how it is constructed.

- - -

- - -

I have lost count of how many times I’ve been asked: “…ya but where are you really from?” It reminds me of the assumption, when I am out in public carrying a guitar case, that: 1. there is a bass inside and 2. I probably play funk. In reality, I’m just a “Canadian kid” who sings and plays guitar in an “indie rock” band.

While I love Prince and the Jackson Five, I spent much of my teens listening to U2, The Cure and The Smiths and learning many of the riffs from The Cult’s Electric. I played some hockey too, although I was more of a baseball fanatic. I speak a bit of French but I am not French. I love poutine and maple syrup, and have had more Tim Horton's coffee than I care to mention. I know about Jacques Cartier and Samuel De Champlain. I know that Quebec, the province where I was born and raised, used to be called New France, something that informs everything about living here. The only regions to which I have not visited in this country are Newfoundland, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. In all, I have 46 cold AF Canadian winters under my belt.

This year, Canada celebrates its 150th "birthday” —-a toddler compared to, say, England. Nevertheless, it’s a big deal. However, my feelings are conflicted. For whatever reason, I struggle to identify fully with being “Canadian” despite my birth certificate and passport. Don’t get me wrong; Canada is possibly the best place to exist on Earth, for anyone, despite any pitfalls. I know precisely how lucky I am that my family chose to move to Canada. It is a fairly easy place to live.

My mother and father were born in Belize, or as it was known previously, British Honduras. It is a very small country (granted independence in 1981) located in Central America with a current population of just under 400 000. My father was courting my mother for a year before she had to leave for nursing studies in Jamaica, in April of 1957. My mother graduated in 1960, then boarded a literal “banana boat” to England - a journey that took an epic 12 days. She obtained her midwifery, eventually working out of the South London Hospital For Women And Children. She was lonely, had no friends or family, faced lots of muted racism and by 1963 had enough of England.

Lucky for her, the Canadian government was recruiting nurses to work in Canada and she had all the qualifications. Furthermore, her older brother and his wife were already in Canada, specifically in Montreal. All arrows were pointing in one direction and the next thing she knew she was on another boat, this time from Liverpool to St. John’s, Newfoundland.

With a nursing job waiting for her at the Montreal General Hospital, she easily obtained permanent resident status. After years apart, my father and mother reconnected in New York where my dad was living — another story in itself. It was my mother’s path that led the way and after my parents were married in 1964, my father moved to Montreal, obtaining permanent residence as well. Five years later they both became citizens and the Lightburns were officially settled in Canada.

Although my parents went through a huge hassle to arrive and stay here (but not near as bad as being a refugee from a war torn country or under an oppressive regime) I carry some baggage along with my nationality. I am a first-generation, natural-born Canadian kid and proud of it, however, as a person of colour in 2017 Canada, I’m part of less than 3 percent of the population. I’m reminded of this every single day and to this day the feeling lingers that I barely “belong” here. Moreover, I have no real connection to the place I am supposedly “really from” - Belize - having only been there twice in my life.

One might think that because I’m in show biz, in an internationally known rock band, that these feelings might be diminished. On a more extreme end, I’ll look at a guy like hockey player PK Subban (whose parents also immigrated from the Caribbean in the 70s) and wonder why a huge, loved, sports star who’s always smiling, positive and has been extremely charitable and giving, is often perceived as controversial, and at times loathed. I bet he’s probably faced a lot of BS growing up in Canada, like I did, and that we have a lot we could relate to and talk about.

Of Canada’s 150 years, my parents have seen over 50 of them. In another 150 years (if there is still a planet Earth) our family will be a couple of generations deep. I’ve come to accept my role as the middle man in the settlement of Lightburns in Canada. In other words, I’m ready to drop the baggage. My children of incredibly mixed heritage are, in my eyes, full blown Canadian. Hopefully no one will be asking them, “…but where are you really from?”

- - -

- - -

The Dears new album 'Times Infinity Volume Two' is out now. Catch the band live:

5 Oxford Academy 2
6 Brighton The Haunt
7 London Oslo
9 Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
10 Manchester Deaf Institute
11 Newcastle Academy 2
12 Glasgow King Tuts
13 Liverpool Academy 2
15 Dublin The Grand Social
16 Belfast Empire Music Hall

Buy Clash Magazine


Follow Clash: